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Since its dedication in 1940, Northwestern’s Abbott Hall has served as housing for students and the military, research and administrative space, and a place for social gatherings.
Located on the corner of Lake Shore Drive and Superior Street, Abbott Hall was originally designed as a dormitory for students, staff and faculty of the professional schools on the Chicago campus. Built at a cost of $1.75 million, the 20-story building was believed to be the tallest structure in the world used exclusively as a college dormitory. It was made possible by a gift from the Clara A. Abbott Foundation in honor of Dr. Wallace C. Abbott, founder of Abbott Laboratories, and his wife Clara. The Abbott Foundation gave the gift to the university for the purpose of advancing “medical, chemical and surgical sciences.”
The building was constructed of Indiana limestone and designed by architect James Gamble Rogers to be similar to the “modified gothic” style he had used in a number of other buildings on the Evanston and Chicago campuses. It had a capacity of approximately 800 students in single and double occupancy rooms, as well as a few kitchenette apartments and penthouse suites. It also had four dining facilities, shops, a bowling alley, exercise rooms, a library and lounges on each residential floor. It was built to offer students a more “residential club” experience.
In the summer of 1940, with war raging in Europe and the likelihood of American involvement apparent, university president Franklyn B. Snyder made a commitment to national defense by accommodating a Naval training unit on the Chicago campus in newly built Abbott Hall. Through a contract with the federal government, Northwestern, along with Columbia University and Notre Dame, became one of the three schools to support a Midshipmen’s School to train and produce Naval officers.
Abbott Hall was formally opened and dedicated on October 20, 1940. The building was already being used by university students and midshipmen enrolled in the V-7 United States Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School, which was renting classroom space and housing from Northwestern. Most candidates completed officer training through a three-month course. By 1941, military buildup for World War II was in full swing, and the entire building was given over to Navy use. Between 1940 and 1945, more than 20,000 midshipmen graduated from the program. Abbott Hall served as the center of military life, providing housing as well as space for recreational and social activities for the officers in training. One of the most famous graduates of the Midshipmen’s School was future president John F. Kennedy. After the war, the building went back to being used for university purposes.
Until 2012, University Housing maintained around 40 apartments in Abbott Hall, but it no longer has any housing on the Chicago campus. Today, the building is still a center of Chicago campus activity. It contains the campus bookstore, Wildcard Office, Bursar’s Office, Religious Life Center, Financial Aid, Women’s Center and Human Resources. In addition, ten floors are used at least in part by the Feinberg School of Medicine, providing space for the Department of Family and Community Medicine, the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine and Psychiatry labs, among others. Four other Northwestern schools also maintain a presence there.
Many alumni remember their time spent living, working and playing in Abbott. It may no longer be home, but friendships and fond memories remain of living on the lake at Northwestern University.
Source: Abbott Hall, U.S.N.R.; the record of the United States Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School, Abbott Hall, Northwestern University, September 1940-August 1945 by United States. Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School, Northwestern University; Fetridge, William Harrison, 1906- ed; published 1945.